Summary and book reviews of The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

The Sunday Philosophy Club

By Alexander McCall Smith

The Sunday Philosophy Club
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2004,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2005,
    272 pages.

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Book Summary

With The Sunday Philosophy Club, Alexander McCall Smith, the author of the best-selling and beloved No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels, begins a wonderful new series starring the irrepressibly curious Isabel Dalhousie.

Isabel is fond of problems, and sometimes she becomes interested in problems that are, quite frankly, none of her business. This may be the case when Isabel sees a young man plunge to his death from the upper circle of a concert hall in Edinburgh. Despite the advice of her housekeeper, Grace, who has been raised in the values of traditional Edinburgh, and her niece, Cat, who, if you ask Isabel, is dating the wrong man, Isabel is determined to find the truth–if indeed there is one–behind the man's death. The resulting moral labyrinth might have stymied even Kant. And then there is the unsatisfactory turn of events in Cat's love life that must be attended to.

Filled with thorny characters and a Scottish atmosphere as thick as a highland mist, The Sunday Philosophy Club is irresistible, and Isabel Dalhousie is the most delightful literary sleuth since Precious Ramotswe.

Chapter One

Isabel Dalhousie saw the young man fall from the edge of the upper circle, from the gods. His flight was so sudden and short, and it was for less than a second that she saw him, hair tousled, upside down, his shirt and jacket up around his chest so that his midriff was exposed. And then, striking the edge of the grand circle, he disappeared headfirst towards the stalls below.

Her first thought, curiously, was of Auden's poem on the fall of Icarus. Such events, said Auden, occur against a background of people going about their ordinary business. They do not look up and see the boy falling from the sky. I was talking to a friend, she thought. I was talking to a friend and the boy fell out of the sky.

She would have remembered the evening, even if this had not happened. She had been dubious about the concert-a performance by the Reykjavik Symphony, of which she had never heard-and would not have gone had not a spare ticket been pressed upon her by a neighbour. ...

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ABOUT THIS BOOK

Isabel Dalhousie is fond of problems, and sometimes she becomes interested in problems that are, quite frankly, none of her business. A highly intelligent single woman who edits a philosophy journal, she is also a person of irrepressible curiosity. So when she witnesses a young man fall to his death from the balcony of Edinburgh’s main concert hall, she sets out to discover whether he was pushed or whether, as the police have concluded, he fell. Despite the advice of her housekeeper, Grace, who has been raised in the values of traditional Edinburgh, and her niece, Cat, who, if you ask Isabel, is dating the wrong man, Isabel is determined to find the truth—if indeed there is one—behind the ...
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Reviews

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I have to fundamentally disagree with the reviewer who writes 'unfortunately, Smith's subplots are more interesting than the main mystery and the key character gets bogged down in too many philosophical digressions'. I disagree because, as far as I'm concerned, the whole joy of this book, and for that matter the 'No.1 Ladies Detective Agency' series, is the fact that the plot is entirely secondary to the digressions!

The Sunday Philosophy Club (the first in a new series from McCall Smith) is set in his home town of Edinburgh, Scotland. As with the Mma Ramotswe books, the story is not driven by the plot so much as the commentary. However, the difference is that whereas Mma Ramotswe is an African Miss Marple - who has an instinctive understanding of people based on her close observations of life in her own small community, the star of this new series is an extremely well read moral philosopher named Isabel Dalhousie which gives McCall Smith a wider and more sophisticated canvas on which to work. The Sunday Philosophy Club is very clever, but without ever being obvious or overstated and is stuffed full of wonderful one-liners such as 'cooking in a temper requires caution with the pepper'. All in all, it's a pleasure to read.

If you're a North American fan of Mma Ramotswe, don't despair - there's at least one more in the series to come. In The Company of Cheerful Ladies has recently been published in the UK and Australia and will be available in the USA and Canada in April 2005.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (428 words).

Media Reviews
Newsday

[McCall Smith's] accomplished novels . . . [are] dependent on small gestures redolent with meaning and main characters blessed with pleasing personalities . . . Not so much conventional mysteries, [his] novels are gentle probes into the mysteries of human nature.

The Plain Dealer

[McCall Smith writes] the best, most charming, honest, hilarious, and life-affirming books to appear in years.

Chicago Sun-Times

Utterly enchanting . . . It is impossible to come away from an Alexander McCall Smith 'mystery' novel without a smile on the lips and warm fuzzies in the heart.

Library Journal - Nicole A Cooke

Unfortunately, Smith's subplots are more interesting than the main mystery, and Isabel tends to get bogged down in philosophical digressions, but the writing and characters propel the narrative forward. While the plot takes a few unexpected turns, it is ultimately resolved too quickly and easily, all the while preparing the reader for future installments. 

Kirkus Reviews...

[A] detective story with charm, warmth, and virtually no detection. There aren't even any meetings of the Sunday Philosophy Club. Lacking Precious Ramotswe's exotic locale, Isabel has to get by on civility and moral starch. But this new series, which makes Edinburgh feel as intimate as Mma Ramotswe's Gaborone, just might fill the bill for patient, literate readers mourning the death of Amanda Cross. 

Publishers Weekly

Murder and moral obligation mingle in this whimsical new series from the author of the smash hit The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.... Fans will quickly be reassured that McCall Smith's latest possesses all the gentle humor and keen insights into human nature that characterized his Mma Ramotswe novels, and they will buy, buy, buy accordingly. 

Booklist

Starred Review. Scotland's climate may be misty and cool, but the author's gentle humor and keen insights into human nature warm every page of this engaging series debut. Among the novel's whimsical moments is a performance by the Really Terrible Orchestra, a real-life ensemble in which McCall Smith plays the bassoon--badly.

Reader Reviews
Monika

The Sunday Philosophy Club
A good introduction to the Isabelle Dalhousie series and sets the Highlander scene for the following books. An explosive beginning, lovable and despisable characters, questions of loyalty, moral inquisition all highlight the plot which comes to a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

By the end of 2005 Alexander McCall Smith will have published 10, yes 10, books in the USA during the year. alone:

In The Company of Cheerful Ladies: A hardcover of the 5th volume in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series (April) plus a paperback version of #4, The Full Cupboard of Life (January), and 2 reprints of The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency in late Summer/Fall. (He plans an eight book cap on this series).

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (the second in The Sunday Philosophy Club series - hardcover) in September, and a The Sunday Philosophy Club ...

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